I really haven't had a lot of time to post here over the past couple of months. So maybe I should provide some minor background – especially for new readers. The dominant theme is the Legion of Christ and the now disgraced founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel.
Allow me first to reiterate that, while in the LC I was one of the very first to speak of the Congregation as a cult. Essentially, that provoked my leaving. I think I was the first to describe the LC as a dysfunctional family. It doesn't matter a whit if I was first or not - my point is I've "been there, done that" earlier than most.
After the leaving the LC (way back in 1982) I felt enormous anger towards Maciel and I felt utterly betrayed and shunned by my LC peers who (true to form) once I left wanted nothing further to do with me. I guess I didn't want to have anything to do with them either - but the "shunning" caused a very deep wound. I fought, successfully, to obtain all the requisite dispensations from Rome so that I could marry within the Church at a time when such dispensations were borderline impossible. This is all ancient history, but it's important to note that I am not a "friend" of the Legion. I got on with my life and devoted my energy to more positive things. I've always wanted to live life looking ahead - not through the rear-view mirror.
Over the years, I felt a nagging need to write a book ("Driving Straight on Crooked Lines") about my experiences in the Legion and my personal dealings with Maciel. I guess I wrote it for my kids but I also thought my story might be of use to those who did not understand how so many of us were taken in by the founder. I wanted to figure that out for myself and, I wondered if the 20 years I "gave" to God within the Legion were of any value at all. I read a lot of pertinent blogs to get a sense of what I might have missed during my absence.
My book kindled lots of memories, most of them sad. But not all. We had some good times and we learned a lot. I certainly got to see the world, had incredible experiences (read my book!) holding on to my Faith and realizing that I did manage to do a lot of "good."
Then the Maciel scandal erupted. It saddened me, for the Church, for the good LC/RC, for their families. When I first heard of his betrayals I was quite devastated, then very angry (again!) At about the same time I was going through the agony of meeting with him in Cheshire to decide on the future of my vocation - he was fathering a child!!
Writing the book was cathartic. I felt better when I finished the process. Then came the good part: floods of e-mails, phone calls (some from people I hadn't heard from for 40 years) all of them saying how much my book had helped them. Some said it helped them understand what priests think about; a previously anti-Catholic businessman wrote it had changed his perspective. Former LCs were the most expressive - they said it helped them revisit the good and the bad and to find even more peace. Several current LCs said they liked it and that it gave them a better understanding about the LC's history (1962 is a long time ago for most of them!). Former RCs liked it, for the same reasons. Current RCs have used it for their "Encounters with Christ" (or whatever that is called now.) Paul Lennon, well known to this blog's readers, gave it a great review which I appreciate. So did Jason Berry. A few who left very recently, have said that reading it is too painful, for now.
You're thinking "what's the point?"
Perhaps I have come full circle. I was/am a victim of MM and the "system" as much as anyone else. My heart goes out to the sexual victims. Period. But they are not, by any means, the only "victims” although some of them are the "de facto" spokespersons for the amorphous group of "ex-Legionaries." I can only try to their anger - especially if, as they say, the Legion has not yet reached out to them. I I empathize with the many people affected by the LC/RC are still recovering. It's a process - but there is light at the end of the dark tunnel and I hope they know than and they do not lose hope. If recovery isn't happening after a reasonable amount of time, I'd suggest therapy. Regain has a directory of people who understand the phenomenon and are willing to help. Find a licensed therapist.
I abhor the "old" LC system. And I repudiate MM and his sick behavior. Renewed contact with some LC peers (e-mail) and former LCs has made me aware how much has changed since my times. Changes for the better - I had heard about some of them but had never believed they were reality. Ethnic diversity and geographic expansion have worked some magic. Not nearly enough for me to feel good about the Congregation where I spent some of the most important years of my life.
The Legion has much more radical change to go through – less action, more spirituality; healthy obedience and chastity, more trust and humility... etc. etc. It would be good if they could "loosen up" and work on appearing less robotic. I believe they have started down that road. Most of them were as devastated by the MM scandal as we are - except they are still on the "inside," victims of his system. No doubt many of them share a lot of blame. Most of them don't. Some don't yet truly comprehend the depth of our upset. Those under 50, I think, do get it. But they too are stuck with the Vatican "process." Of course they want new leadership - but first they have to have a General Chapter. It's also much easier for a Legionary priest to leave the Congregation than it used to be.
Despite the fact that "listening" and "hearing" are not - in my experience - key Legionary competencies, deep down, they must cringe on a very human level when they become aware of the invective hurled against them. In my time, we were very good at not "hearing" criticism and we knew how to handle it within "fortress Legion." To my mind, the virulent criticism has not achieved much. Maybe it's time to see if a drop of honey might achieve more than a barrel of vinegar.
Frankly, I don't care much about the "Legion" or the "Regnum Christ" - two more "clerical" institutions and “clericalism” is a large part of the “problem.” But I do care about the people, the individuals - the generous men and women who, in good faith, left everything to follow Christ in the Legion or the Movement. So the institution treated me and so many others badly but I still care about my former colleagues -I feel the same way about ex-LC and ex-RC. That's why I hope Legionaries can re-discover their place in the Church, that they can "reform." God knows they have enough vocal critics telling them how bad and sick they are, what they should do, why they are to blame and etc. It would be nice if, some time LC, RC and former members could all feel some sense of unity, having shared so many life-changing experiences. So far, the dominant theme seems to be anger and bitterness. That is a great loss.
Meanwhile the Pope and the universal Church seems to want the Legion and the Regnum Christi to survive and reform. I think the faithful and hierarchy can learn so much from this experience - about clericalism, about authentic religious life, about contemporary spirituality, about the avoidance of sex abuse, about the dangers of charismatic and conservative zealots. That's why I try to keep a balanced perspective, inasmuch as I can. My father used to quote that Gospel phrase "He who hears you, hears me" with regards to the Pope. I confess I've had my doubts. But deep down I want my former colleagues to heal and get better because, for the moment at least, that seems to be what the Church wants.
As an aside, I've started a series of reflections on "How the Mighty Fail: Lessons in Leadership" based on my book. Constructive comments and insights are most welcome.